Ventura Stormwater Permit
- A public hearing on the Ventura MS4 Stormwater Permit is scheduled for
May 7 at the County Government Center.
Environmental regulations softened, avoiding potential hefty water
By Kevin Clerici
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Local public works officials are breathing small sighs of relief now
that revisions have been made to proposed tough new stormwater
pollution rules for Ventura County.
The county needs a new stormwater permit from the Los Angeles Regional
Water Quality Control Board, and officials said the conditions the
agency initially proposed could have cost local taxpayers $1 billion
over five years, or roughly $600 per household per year.
State water regulators have since agreed to rework some of the
costliest conditions, reducing the estimated cost of compliance to $20
million to $33 million annually, or $60 to $100 per household per
year, officials said. The county and cities, however, probably will
end up eating the bill.
“The permit is much improved. They have listened to us,” Ventura
County Public Works Director Jeff Pratt said of the revised standards.
The standards are aimed at reducing pollutants in the Ventura and
Santa Clara rivers, Malibu and Calleguas creeks and eventually the
“It’s not perfect, but we feel it’s something everyone can live with,”
Still, much debate and jockeying is expected over the next month,
particularly over proposed tough standards aimed at future housing and
commercial development and redevelopment projects.
The Water Quality Control Board has scheduled a May 7 hearing at the
County Government Center in Ventura to take final public testimony and
consider adopting the conditions.
Nearly three years in the making, Ventura County’s stormwater permit
is shared by county government and all 10 cities. The persistence of
pollution in the waters off Ventura County beaches has prompted a need
for more stringent measures, according to state regulators and
The proposed permit would for the first time establish strict limits
on the quantity of pollutants allowed into lakes, rivers and the ocean.
One promising change from the initial proposals, however, is that
steep fines for noncompliance have been removed, Pratt said.
Officials complained the fines and public backlash would have forced
cities to install multimillion-dollar treatment facilities at multiple
locations to remove pollutants from storm runoff. Now, they get more
time to study and isolate actual problems.
“If you don’t meet the goals, you still must take action,” Pratt said.
“But you get some time to find the most appropriate action.”
Stormwater, he said, cannot be regulated the same way as sewage
systems or factories. Municipalities can’t control rain levels that
drive trash, bacteria and other pollutants from streets, yards,
parking lots, housing tracts and businesses into local waters.
Influential environmental groups Heal the Bay and the Natural
Resources Defense Council, however, say storm runoff is the biggest
known source of pollution at beaches, and they have been among the
most outspoken advocates for greater protections.
“The latest draft (permit) has its pluses and minuses,” said Kirsten
James, water quality director for Heal the Bay.
One plus is the inclusion of beach water-quality monitoring, she said.
The new permit also calls for “low-impact” housing and commercial
development. The water agency eliminated some controversial proposed
grading requirements, but it still wants projects to better capture
runoff and treat the water on site. “The idea is making the property
more like its natural conditions,” James said. “It takes steps in
those directions, but some loopholes still exist.”
Building industry officials contend the permit’s strict requirements
to reduce runoff from even small redevelopment projects could conflict
with smart-growth strategies, which encourage high-density projects on
existing urban lots instead of suburban sprawl.
Many of the design-related techniques encouraged by the water agency —
such as setting aside areas to be planted with water-filtering
vegetation — would be difficult to accomplish on small lots and
thoroughfares almost entirely covered by structures. It could hurt
efforts to revive the economy and housing industry, said Holly
Schroeder, CEO of the Los Angeles and Ventura counties chapter of the
Building Industry Association.
“It’s going to drive development to areas that use more land,” she
said. The association would prefer more flexibility in the regulations
so the right approach can be tailored to each development site.
A coalition of city and county officials is working on a formal
response to the latest draft permit, Pratt said. It also plans to
continue talking with environmental and business groups to try to
forge a united stance on possible alternatives and practical approaches.
Much of the millions in new spending would go toward enhanced
monitoring and analysis of water quality throughout the county’s
winding drainage system, installation of underground trash collectors,
and inspections of industrial facilities and businesses, officials said.
The city of Ventura, for example, has identified 70 new actions it
would have to take to comply, said Vicki Musgrove, assistant public
works director. “There have been some changes, but this is still a
precedent-setting permit,” she said.
Pratt said local agencies have few options for recovering the costs.
The county and cities collectively spend about $13.5 million a year on
storm-water programs now. Part of that is offset by a countywide fee
levied on property owners, which raises about $3 million a year — less
than $10 a year per household on average.
Increasing that fee would require voter approval, and Pratt figured it
would be difficult to persuade residents to dig deeper.
“Everyone is wondering where the money is going to come from,” he said.